Category Archives: The Moon

The Moon is Surrounded by Neon

Illustration of NASA's LADEE spacecraft, which has already impacted the Moon's surface (NASA/GSFC)

Illustration of NASA’s LADEE spacecraft, which has already impacted the Moon’s surface (NASA/Dana Berry)

Finally, we have proof of the moon’s “noble” heritage! Measurements from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, aka LADEE, have confirmed the long-suspected presence of neon in its exosphere (neon is one of the noble gases — see what I did there?) along with isotopes of argon and helium. The relative concentrations of each of these elements also appears to depend on the time of day, which, on the Moon, lasts 29.5 Earth-days long.

Read the rest of my article on Discovery News here.

Today in 1966: Lunar Orbiter I Launched to Map our Moon

Earth was seen from the Moon for the first time by Lunar Orbiter I on August 23, 1966. (NASA/LPI/USGS)

Earth was seen from the Moon for the first time by Lunar Orbiter I on August 23, 1966. (NASA/LPI/USGS)

A test version of a Lunar Orbiter spacecraft. (Eric Long, National Air & Space Museum)

A test version of the 2-meter-long, 390-kg Lunar Orbiter spacecraft. (Eric Long, National Air & Space Museum)

On August 10, 1966, NASA’s Lunar Orbiter I launched from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas-Agena D rocket, the flagship spacecraft of a program designed to map the Moon and investigate intended landing sites for the planned Apollo landings, including helping determine the risks from micrometeorite and radiation exposure. Over the course of the next twelve months and five successful missions the Lunar Orbiter program photographed 99% of the Moon’s surface, both nearside and far, to a resolution as fine as 1 meter – which at the time was ten times better than what could be achieved from Earth.

Lunar Orbiter I was also responsible for sending back our first views of Earth from lunar orbit, one of which can be seen above.

Learn more about Lunar Orbiter here, and see original images from the Lunar Orbiter program here. Also, check out a cool old Apollo-era film about the Lunar Orbiter and Apollo prep missions below:

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The Hammer-Feather Drop: Watch Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott “Do a Science” on the Moon

On August 2, 1971, at the end of the last EVA of the Apollo 15 mission, Commander David Scott took a few minutes to conduct a classical science experiment in front of the TV camera that had been set up just outside the LM Falcon at the Hadley Rille landing site. Scott, a former Air Force pilot, recreated a famous demonstration often attributed to Galileo (which may or may not have actually been performed by the astronomer in Pisa in 1586) that shows how objects of different masses react the same way to gravity when dropped – that is, they fall at the same rate.

By performing the “acceleration test” in the vacuum environment of space (but where there is still an observable downward pull of gravity) the element of air resistance is negated – especially on such a low-mass and low-density object as a falcon feather – thereby creating a more “pristine” setting for the centuries-old experiment than could ever be achieved on Earth.

According to a report on the mission’s science objectives: “During the final minutes of the third extravehicular activity, a short demonstration experiment was conducted. A heavy object (a 1.32-kg aluminum geological hammer) and a light object (a 0.03-kg falcon feather) were released simultaneously from approximately the same height (approximately 1.6 m) and were allowed to fall to the surface. Within the accuracy of the simultaneous release, the objects were observed to undergo the same acceleration and strike the lunar surface simultaneously, which was a result predicted by well-established theory, but a result nonetheless reassuring considering both the number of viewers that witnessed the experiment and the fact that the homeward journey was based critically on the validity of the particular theory being tested. ” (Joe Allen, NASA SP-289, Apollo 15 Preliminary Science Report, Summary of Scientific Results, p. 2-11. Source.)

Launched on July 26, 1971, Apollo 15 was the first of the “J” missions capable of a longer stay time on the moon and greater surface mobility, thanks to the use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).Learn more about the Apollo 15 mission here.

This is Our Best Photo of Neil Armstrong on the Moon

Panorama from Apollo 11 showing Neil Armstrong at the LM Eagle (NASA)

Panorama from Apollo 11 showing Neil Armstrong at the LM Eagle, with the US flag and Solar Wind Experiment at left. (NASA)

Everyone knows that Apollo 11 commander Neil A. Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the Moon (and if you didn’t know, that occurred on July 20, 1969 – yes, it really happened). It was a momentous, history-making event that many (like myself) consider one of the most impressive achievements of humankind. But oddly enough, even with high-resolution Hasselblad film cameras there on location, there are very few photos showing Armstrong himself on the surface of the Moon. In fact the one above, a panorama captured by fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, really is the best image in existence of Neil on the Moon.

So…why is that?

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Infographic: Why Would We Mine the Moon?

The Moon contains rich reserves of rare-Earth metals and helium-3

The Moon contains rich reserves of water, rare-Earth metals, and helium-3

Our Moon is more than just some pretty decoration for the night sky and a place to plant a few flags – it’s also a potential source of valuable raw materials that could someday be used for energy and engineering both on Earth and in space.

If you saw the movie Moon (and if you haven’t I highly recommend it) there was a whole lunar base set up for the extraction of helium-3 from the surface. This isn’t some fantasy “unobtainium” element, it’s a very real isotope that’s rare on our magnetically-shielded Earth but common on the Moon, where it can be easily deposited by the solar wind. Helium-3 alone could make lunar mining ventures economically (or at least environmentally) sensible as it could theoretically power nuclear fusion reactors on Earth with virtually no radioactive waste products. (Read more here and here.)

According to a 2009 AFP article “Reserves of helium-3 on the moon are in the order of a million tons, according to some estimates, and just 25 tons could serve to power the European Union and United States for a year.”

But how could we obtain helium-3 and other valuable lunar resources, why do we need them and what effect might those operations have on the Moon we all know and love? There’s an infographic for that, produced by consulting firm 911 Metallurgist and designed by NeoMam Studios. Check out the full graphic below and decide if you think we should be aiming for the Moon…

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Oh What a Relief! Cool 3D Views of the Moon via LROC

Red/cyan anaglyph of Hell Q crater on the Moon's near side  (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Red/blue anaglyph of Hell Q crater on the Moon’s near side (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Do you have any of those paper 3D viewers around? You know, with the red and blue lenses? If so, pop ’em on and check out the image above from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) showing the crater “Hell Q,” located on the Moon’s southern near side near the brightly-rayed Tycho. You might think a crater was just carved into your screen!

The 3.75-km-wide Hell Q is one of a cluster of 19 craters located around the main 32.5-km Hell crater. (And no, it wasn’t named after a realm of the afterworld but rather for Hungarian astronomer Maximillian Hell.)

The image was acquired on April 11, 2014. You can see a larger 3D view of the region around Hell Q below.

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